Transportation

Traffic, public transit, congestion, road construction and closures, I-35, MoPac, US 290, US 183, Ben White Blvd, and policy and planning issues related to transportation and mobility in Austin and the Central Texas counties of Travis, Hays, Caldwell, Bastrop and Williamson.

What Can Austin Do to Stop Road Deaths?

Jul 17, 2015
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

Austin’s roads are more dangerous than ever. The rate of fatal car crashes is nearly double what it’s been in previous years. It’s only July, and soon the city will have more traffic fatalities so far this year than we did during all of last year. These statistics alone paint a grim picture of road safety in Austin. 

But there's also a human face and voice behind each of these numbers. People like Tina-Michelle Pittsley, the victim of a near-fatal crash in Austin. 

Exit Changes Come to MoPac on Monday

Jul 10, 2015
MoPac Improvement Project

Big changes lie ahead for the MoPac Expressway as a toll lane is added in each direction. And those changes will affect drivers before the new lanes are ready. Here's what you'll need to know so you don’t miss your exit.

The MoPac Improvement project has reached the point where workers need to start digging for an underpass entrance and exit to and from downtown. That means drivers heading southbound on the highway will need to be ready for some significant changes to exits that start Monday.

Terrence Henry/KUT

While plenty of people are moving to Austin for the jobs, the outdoors and the lifestyle, the city is still missing something pretty important: sidewalks. Austin has only half of the sidewalks it's supposed to, and it will be a long time before it can fill in those gaps.

We've put together this explainer on Austin's sidewalk situation.

Wait, did I hear that right? Austin is missing half of its sidewalks?

Yes — there are a little more than 2,200 miles of sidewalks absent in the city, roughly half of the sidewalks the city is supposed to have. And many sidewalks are not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities (ADA) act. 

At the current rate of city funding, how long will it take to fully build out Austin’s sidewalks?

More Rain Means More Potholes on Austin Streets

Jun 29, 2015
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

The drenching rains that have fallen on Austin this year have provided sizable benefits: Reservoirs are recovering, lawns are green, and this summer will be cooler as a result. (Maybe a little more humid, too.)

But there are, of course, downsides to the rain, most notably the serious damage to lives and property from flooding. Austin’s infrastructure is taking a hit, too, and you don’t have to go far to find it. It’s right underneath you. 

Yes, we’re talking about potholes. Those holes in the road form thanks to two things: water and traffic, both of which Austin has plenty of lately.

Austin's 'Dillo Shuttle Returns — Sort Of

Jun 24, 2015
YouTube

Remember the ‘Dillo? No, not the legendary music venue The Armadillo. We’re talking about Austin’s free trolley system that shut down in 2009. There were several routes that took people around downtown for free, starting in the eighties, until they went away a few years ago. 

Now, the ‘Dillo is making a comeback.

Kind of.

Mobility35

A new plan to improve Interstate 35 would add an additional lane on the upper decks of the highway between 15th and 51st Streets in Austin, according to a modified proposal announced today by state and city lawmakers

"The auxiliary lanes will give you a mile and a half to move into the main lanes of the upper deck and move those exiting to Airport [Blvd.] out of the main lanes," says Senator Kirk Watson, who laid out the new plan at a luncheon on Monday. 

How to Make Texas a More Bike-Friendly State

May 15, 2015
Sarah Jasmine Montgomery/KUT News

Today is 'Bike to Work Day' in Austin (and across the country), with more than two dozen “fueling stations” offering free snacks and drinks to Austinites on two wheels. While the percentage of Austinites who commute by bike is growing, it still remains low relative to peer cities outside of Texas. On average, only two percent of people in Austin regularly use a bike to get to work, though that percentage can be much higher in parts of the urban core. 

Austin ranks 91st on a list of 154 cities nationwide for bikeability according to Walk Score, while the state of Texas is in the bottom half of states for bike-friendliness, according to the League of American Bicyclists. The state ranks 30th, up a few places from last year. While Texas has made some incremental improvements in cycling-friendliness, like a 'share the road' campaign and other safety improvements, there’s a long way for the Lone Star State to go.

Courtesy HNTB Corporation

Austin can sometimes feel like one giant construction zone these days.

Road projects have been adding to the noise and delays, but there’s a hidden benefit to all that new pavement — many of the new road projects and highway dollars in town also mean improvements for Austinites getting around on bikes and on foot.

DOT

Austin suffers from plenty of traffic congestion, but the city is hardly alone there. Across the country, cities are having to confront the question of how to move more and more people around in a limited amount of space. On Friday, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx came to Austin to discuss transportation issues and what the city can learn from others. 

His visit brought him to the University of Texas at Austin's Center for Transportation Research, where he got to see research in traffic modeling and connected vehicle technology. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently released 'Beyond Traffic,' a 30-year plan on the future of transportation in the country. "It looks at long-term trends and begins to shape the types of choices we have ahead of us," Foxx says. "And I came here today to see what kind of work is being done on research and innovation in transportation that's consistent with our plan." 

We spoke for a few minutes on Austin's traffic issues, transportation innovation, and difficulties consistently funding infrastructure and maintenance of the roads we already have. 

Miguel Gutierrez, Jr./KUT News

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”  Today, Tyler Whitson and Terrence Henry take on transportation.

Miguel Gutierrez, Jr./KUT News

KUT and our city hall reporting partner the Austin Monitor are looking at needs that have typically been paid for by the state, but have become local responsibilities. Some call them unfunded mandates. KUT News and the Austin Monitor will look at key examples of that interaction in our series, “The Buck Starts Here.”  Today, we take on Austin’s highways. You can read Tyler Whitson's companion piece over at the Austin Monitor.

We hear it all the time: Austin’s growing too fast, and we don’t have enough housing or roads for the people already here, not to mention the million more people that will be in the region in a little over a decade. To better accommodate an influx of people and cars, new additions are being planned for several of the region’s major highways. 

But there’s no such thing as a free ride on most of these new lanes, and to understand why, it helps to do a little time traveling.

Raido Kalma/flickr

It's been almost a year since new ride services like Lyft and Uber have been up and running in Austin. At first Lyft and Uber were operating illegally, but under a temporary ordinance approved by City Council in October, those companies are now legal in town. Hailing a Lyft or Uber as a passenger has never been easier in Austin. But some of the information these companies are providing to the city as part of their interim agreement is proving harder to flag down. 

Lyft and Uber collect information on where all riders are being picked up and dropped, how much trips cost, how long trips are, and when they're seeing peak demand. They provide that data (stripped of user identification) to the city on a quarterly basis, "in order to help the City evaluate the role of TNCs [Transportation Network Companies] to address transportation issues, such as drunk driving and underserved community needs," according to the interim ordinance.

But the city is fighting on Uber and Lyft's behalf after KUT submitted an open records request to obtain the quarterly reports.

Miguel Gutierrez, Jr./KUT

We've all felt Austin's growing pains: traffic, high rents, rapidly rising home values, and the higher property taxes that come with them. And we tend to drown these pains in queso and beer, so we're probably putting on some weight, too. But what if there were an easy way out of all of this?

Some Austinites, like Mike Melanson, have found one. "A congestion-free way of getting around, a way that doesn't cost me money, a way that helps my health," he says. For much of the last ten years, he's relied on a 19th century technology to move about Austin: the bicycle. 

Spencer Selvidge / KUT

Austin's bus system got two new lines last year, called MetroRapid. They're generally larger, run more frequently, have fewer stops (to run faster) and offer some amenities not found on the city's local buses, like WiFi. More than a million trips have been taken on the new rapid bus lines. They also have a higher price: A ride on one of Capital Metro's MetroRapid buses costs $1.75, as opposed to $1.25 for a ride on their local alternatives. 

But these rapid buses supposedly justify that higher price by getting you around faster. Capital Metro labels it a "premium" service, and one advantage they're supposed to have is they can hold green lights longer at intersections outside of downtown, extending the time before a light turns red and allowing the rapid bus to get through in time. "Special technology allows all MetroRapid vehicles to catch more green lights to stay on schedule," Capital Metro says on its website.

TxDOT

I-35 is closed in both directions just south of Salado, a town about 60 miles north of Austin, after an oversized tractor-trailer struck the FM 2484 overpass bridge under construction. The Texas Department of Transportation says the impact caused several beams to fall onto the highway. 

Terrence Henry/KUT News

SXSW Interactive has come to a close, and one big trend this year was connected car technology — that could be anything from your car knowing a light's about to turn red to a vehicle completely driving itself. 

Next week, a car will hit the road on a cross-country drive from San Francisco to New York. Except this car won’t have a driver. Let's take a look at where self-driving car technology is today, and the possible places it could take us. Listen to the story: 

Why Big Auto is Buying Into Car-Free Mobility

Mar 16, 2015
Terrence Henry/KUT News

There are a lot more options for getting around Austin these days other than driving your own car, and even more apps and technology to help you navigate those options. But some of the big investors in this new technology may surprise you. They aren't just coming from Silicon Valley — Detroit and others in the auto industry are getting in on the action as well.

Take the Austin-based RideScout, for example. "RideScout is essentially the Kayak of ground transportation," says Joseph Kopser, RideScout CEO. Kopser is a veteran who came to SXSW a few years back with an idea: What if you could take something like transportation and mobility, and make it as easy as booking a flight or hotel room?

Daniel X O'Neill/Flickr

Just before the SXSW onslaught, Lyft has agreed to a deal making it the first ridesharing service allowed at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like The Drag?

Mar 4, 2015
Terrence Henry/KUT News

It’s one of the biggest bottlenecks in town, a place where cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians all squeeze into just four travel lanes, and where the University of Texas begins to merge with downtown – a street aptly named "The Drag."

Now You Can Find Out Where Your Bus Is In Real Time

Feb 25, 2015
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Starting today, there's a big change in Austin's transit system. It's not a big new train or shiny new buses, it's something much smaller, so small you can fit it in your phone. And this tiny new product could mean big improvements for Capital Metro riders.

It's called real-time info, and what it means is that riders will now know exactly where their bus is. If it's early, if it's late, or if it's on time – now you'll know.

Jeff Heimsath for KUT

Capital Metro is planning some big improvements for MetroRail, the city’s only rail transit line. But one of the big-ticket items on that list of improvements – a plan for a permanent downtown station with a price tag of over $30 million – is being criticized by some as unnecessary and ill-suited to the city's transit needs.

MetroRail (also known as the Red Line) got off to a rough start when it launched in 2010, starting several years late and tens of millions of dollars over budget. Still, it's managed to attract more and more riders in the years since, and a typical weekday rush hour these days on the Red Line is standing room only.

But the service is hampered by several factors. 

Filipa Rodrigues/KUT News

Mass transit is a very small slice of the Austin transportation pie. On average, only about four percent of people in the greater Austin area use transit to get to work. In Portland, it’s three times that. And Austin's transit use suffered a significant drop last year. So what can Capital Metro do to turn things around?

Let's start with the bulk of Capital Metro's system: the bus.

"I think we are on the cusp of making a significant step in the right direction," says Todd Hemingson, Vice President of Strategic Planning and Development at Capital Metro. The agency has laid out several goals for the years ahead, and one of them is adding frequency to some of the city's most popular bus routes.

Spencer Selvidge for KUT News

This is the first in a two-part series on transit use in Austin. Read Part Two: After Ridership Drops, Where Does Cap Metro Go From Here?

Austin is one of the fastest-growing metro areas in the country. Over the last five years, the population in the city limits has increased by nearly a 100,000 people, an 11 percent increase. In the larger region, the growth is even greater. But there’s one part of the city that isn’t growing: transit ridership. Let's take a look at what's behind that trend, in the first of a two-part series on transit use in Austin.

"Ridership has not increased as much as our city has grown," says Jace Deloney, chair of the Urban Transportation Commission, a city board that advises on transportation issues. "We haven't kept up in terms of providing transit service to the people that are moving here."

Texas Airports Led in 2014 Firearm Confiscations

Jan 27, 2015
TSA/tsa.gov

Three Texas airports made the Transportation Security Administration's 2014 top ten list for firearm confiscation at security checkpoints.

Dallas-Fort Worth was at the top of the list; 120 guns were discovered in travelers' carry-on luggage at DFW airport in 2014. Over in Houston, George Bush Intercontinental came in at No. 4 with 77 confiscations, and William P. Hobby airport was at No. 6 with 50 confiscations for the year.

Overall the TSA discovered a record number of guns in carry-ons at U.S. airports last year: 2,212 firearms were confiscated, roughly an average of six per day. Eighty-three percent of those were loaded at the time.

Elon Musk Announces Texas Hyperloop Plans

Jan 15, 2015
hyperloop
wikimedia commons

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced today that he plans to build a test version of his Hyperloop transit system, and that test loop will likely be built in Texas.

Musk announced plans for a Hyperloop in California in 2013. The high-speed transit system would move at rates up to 800 miles per hour, potentially cutting the five-plus hour drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles down to about an hour.

The test track potentially in the works for Texas would be a five-mile loop, Musk said. One trip around that loop would take about 22.5 seconds.

Courtesy of Capital Metro

Austinites taking public transportation will see a hike in bus and rail fares next week. Starting Jan. 11, fares are going to go up on Capital Metro mass transit.

For bus-goers, what cost just fifty cents six years ago will now cost $1.25. Capital Metro is increasing the base fare for rides on local bus routes this winter, a 25 percent increase. Fares are also going up for what the agency calls its premium buses, like MetroRapid, to $1.75 per ride. Additionally, a trip on the Metrorail Red Line will now cost you $3.50 each way, up from $2.75.

Rescue crews scouring the waters off Indonesia say they have found dozens of bodies and have spotted wreckage that belongs to AirAsia QZ8501, the jetliner that went missing Sunday, carrying 155 passengers and seven crew members.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp. quotes an Indonesian navy spokesman:

Via Mark Stevens, flickr.com/photos/14723335@N05/

From the Austin Monitor:

Plans to convert downtown’s Seventh, Eighth, Brazos and Colorado streets from one-way to two-way streets are underway.

On Monday, City Council’s Comprehensive Planning and Transportation Committee heard a presentation on a timeline for the change from acting Transportation Department Assistant Director Jim Dale.

“A lot of cities have gone through this process, of being two-way initially, then going to one-way to help move capacity to move a lot more vehicles,” said Dale. “But as we start to look at the pedestrian realm and looking at the complete streets … the two-way conversion does lend itself to a more pedestrian-friendly environment, with a tendency to slow down traffic.”

Google Maps

Millions of Texans are taking to the road and skies this year for Thanksgiving travel, and for the first time, Austinites will have some new data to help them decide when to head out on the highway. They'll need it, because Austin has the second biggest increase in traffic during Thanksgiving week in the entire country, according to Google.

After crunching the numbers from their mapping data from the last few years, Google Maps has some advice for you: Leave. Now. Before it's too late. 

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

Earlier this year, Austinites got a warning from their mayor: Pass a proposed light rail line, or face certain doom. There was no "Plan B," voters were told. 

"Here's the basic equation," Mayor Lee Leffingwell said in his State of the City address, "Rail or fail." 

Austin voters chose the latter option this election, saying "No" to a billion-dollar light rail and road improvements proposal by a wide margin, 57 percent voting "No" and 43 percent voting "Yes." The proposal garnered a lot of interest, with 15,000 more Austinites voting on it than on the race for Mayor of Austin.

Contrary to what you might have heard, this was technically the first time a rail plan has been voted down within city limits. So what happened? How did a supposedly progressive, typically bond-approving city electorate shoot down something so strongly?

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